The Danish author Hans Christian Anderson once said to travel is to live. Our lives maybe on pause at the moment and the very idea of travel a far away dream, this simply does not mean that we can't reminisce old memories to channel some adventure during these turbulent times. Take a mental break with Samiksha Sharma and her family as they travel through Greece and take in the greek culture to the fullest:
My family and I embarked on a journey to discover a new land, culture and indulge ourselves in all things Greek. It had been seven years since our last family vacation and we thought that Greece would be an ideal place to kick back and relax with the sand in our toes, a chilled beer in hand and the sun in our faces. Aaah heaven! I did just that for most of the trip and have a tan to show for it. Athens, the ancient city of Greece, one of the oldest cities’ in the world, full of history and not to mention tourists, was the first pit stop on our Big Fat Greek Holiday. We checked into the Acropolis Museum Boutique Hotel late at night. A guided tour of the city was booked for the next morning. Our guide for the day picked us up from our hotel very, very early (in my books anyway). He drove us around the same block about three times, showing us the Parliament and Temple of Gods from the bus; we decided to walk to the Acropolis Museum and realized that it was only 5-minutes away from our hotel.
The Acropolis Museum takes you to another era; a period in history we’ve only read about or watched in movies. The museum is built on the ruins of the 6th century BC Acropolis neighbourhood, which is visible from the transparent floor, and offers a spectacular view of the Parthenon. It houses various relics from pots to sculptures that used to adorn temples like the shrine of Goddess Athena. Astonishingly, relics like the Parthenon Marbles displayed, are replicas of the real ones treasured in the British Museum. About two centuries ago, Thomas Bruce (the 7th Earl of Elgin, a Scottish nobleman)removed these pieces from the Parthenon and took them back with him to England. The British Government bought them in 1818 and they have been on display in the British Museum since.
Exhausted with the walking, information overload (our guide was really enthusiastic) and the early morning start, we made our way to the museum cafe. It had the most stunning view of the Parthenon, making us recall the movie Clash of the Titans where they had used the Parthenon as the meeting ground for the Gods. The friendly staff chatted with us and gave us tips on what to see and do. Unfortunately, since it was the month of August, most of the city was shut for vacation, so the opera and live Sufi performances were out. They did teach us a few Greek words we could use like, yassas (hello), kala (good), efcharisto (thank you) and the most important, freddo cappuccino (cold coffee). The Greeks love their coffee and they love it strong, so I was a happy customer. After our coffee, we walked uphill (I wished my cellulite au revoir) to the Parthenon, the temple of Athena. The structure sitting on top of the city takes your breath away. It is enormous in size and makes you wonder how the Greeks managed to build it without modern machinery or the resources we have at our disposal today. The structure is in ruins, with pieces scattered across the hill. The Venetians bombed the Parthenon in the hope of capturing Athens, which at that time was under the reign of the Turks.
After visiting the Parthenon and the Museum of Ancient Agora, we were ready for lunch. We sampled the local cuisine at a roadside cafe. Moussaka, a dish made with layered eggplant, or in some cases potato and minced meat, along with Tiropites which are deep fried cheese triangles, were my favorites. The Temple of Zeus was next. After taking the directions from our waiter, we walked towards the temple. We got lost (and eventually found our way), but in turn found a lovely street lined with shops selling all things Greek. From precious jewellery and leather products to souvenirs and clothes, everything was on display. It was a typical ‘tourist shopping’ destination, right off of Plaka, the popular shopping and eating hangout.
Since we had pre-decided our schedule for the day, my mother and I, with heavy hearts hauled ourselves along with my brother and dad to the temple, eyeing the shops we wanted to visit again. With our sightseeing and tanning done for the day, we made our way back to the hotel with hopes of conquering shopping on our return from the islands.
View of Athens from the Acropolis, Athens.
Our next stop was Mykonos! The pictures on the internet or in movies are not a patch on what the real thing looks like. Our hotel in Mykonos, Harmony, was right next to the port with a picturesque view of the harbor right in front and the town on the left. A white cat sitting on a white sofa greeted us. After checking in, we were informed that public transport is limited on the islands, taxis included. So we decided to hire two scooters much to our parents’ objections. Excited to hit the beach, we rode up to the nearest one, Platis Gialos, scootering through small meandering roads; views of the town below overlooking the ocean. Platis Gialos is considered to be a quiet beach in comparison to Paradise beach, where all the parties happen. At Platis Gialos, as I soaked up the sun and sand, I was scheming up ways to convince my brother to accompany me on a clubbing spree. Just when I began enlisting the number of reasons why he should experience the clubbing culture in Greece to my brother, we spotted a promoter for Cavo Paradiso, a club I had read about. She was wearing a tiny crop top with an even tinier pair of shorts with the club’s name embossed on it. She walked up to us and started talking about the club. Let’s just say we (my brother) paid up for the early bird passes in no time.
After hours of swimming and endless rounds of drinks, we headed to town for dinner and found ourselves at Nico, a small restaurant that spills out into the town square. A simple meal of Souvlaki (pork or chicken skewers served with veggies and pitta), Dolmathakia (stuffed grape leaves) and grilled fresh mullet took us by surprise. The food was so good that it simply melted in our mouths and left us craving more.
Indians and Greeks have one thing in common; they like big meals and they like to eat them late into the night. So, on the islands everything stays open past the wee hours. All the shops, restaurants, bars and even art galleries stay open, giving us ample time to explore the town center. Later that night, after an hour’s nap and some pre-drinking at the hotel, my brother and I found ourselves on the streets of Mykonos trying to figure out the way to the club. We decided to take the bus instead of being typical tourists and hiring cabs.
The bus station turned out to be on the other side of town instead of the old port, which was a short walk away from our hotel. Walking through the streets of the town would have been scary at 2 am in Delhi, but in Mykonos, it was so much fun! The little cobblestoned alleyways were buzzing with life; the parties from the bars spilled out onto the streets. Bar owners and promoters tried to lure you into their establishments; loud music and happy faces greeted us wherever we went. The bus seemed to be like a small party too, filled with youngsters singing tracks that were playing on the stereo. After a short 10-minute ride, we reached Cavo Paradiso, which is right on the edge of the hill at Paradise beach, sitting 300 metres above it.
Now, Mykonos is known to be the gay capital of Greece, but little did we know that Cavo Paradiso would be the gay club of Greece as well. It certainly felt like one. The club was amazing; the music was splendid thanks to Ingrosso, but there were only men in sight! We probably saw only 15 girls (I may be exaggerating a bit) in a club that housed almost 3000 people that night. The club stays open till 8 am, but we made our way back at 4 am since we wanted to hit some more beaches the next day.
L: View of the Temple of Zeus from the Acropolis Museum, Athens.; R: Handrian’s Arch, Athens
After devouring a scrumptious breakfast at the hotel, we rode on our scooties to Ornos beach. My only complaint about the beaches in Greece is that they are very slim—not leaving much of a distance between the restaurants and the water. Ornos is another ‘family beach’ lined with plenty of restaurants and boutique hotels; it is an independent village. It paints a very pretty picture. Next, we went to Lia, known for soft sandy beaches and crystal clear water.
Later that night, we found ourselves aimlessly walking the cobblestoned paths of town, finally ready to do some shopping. Mykonos has everything to offer, from good food, beaches with pristine water, picturesque views to amazing shopping. I absolutely loved the jewellery. The fashionista in me struggled to choose what not to buy. We turned in early that night after a long day of swimming and drinking.
The next day, we set off for Santorini. Santorini is supposed to be a spectacularly beautiful city, sitting atop a hill that looks over the clear blue sea. All the adjectives fail to describe the view. After checking into our hotel, we drove off to Perissa, a black sand beach (this time we hired a car, Santorini is spread out so scooters don’t cut it for the long rides). Perissa’s main attraction is Mesa Vouno, a rock that rises from the sea. Just past Mesa is another black sand beach, Kamari. The main attraction of the two beaches however, is not the black sand, but the rock. It shines in the dark, like frost in the moonlight. After dinner at the hotel, we headed to Fira. Santorini is much more relaxed in comparison to Mykonos; its beaches are quieter too.
As they say, Santorini is more for the honeymooners. Fira was anything but relaxed. The center was buzzing with life, with restaurants spilling into the main square. Like Mykonos, everything stays open till late. The best part of Fira, in my opinion, is a bar called Franco’s where one can kick back and relax on a lounger with a drink in hand, overlooking the town that’s lit up like Diwali. Right next to easy going Franco’s is Tango, a bar with loud music, delicious cocktails, a view to match Franco’s as well as a younger crowd.
Samiksha with her family
We woke up early the next day to do some sightseeing. I really wanted to see the Nea Kameni (which means the youngest volcano) across the island. We hired a small boat which came with a cute, young Siberian guide. He informed us that the volcanic island we were on, was the youngest island in Greece; it was also an active one. The boat anchored at the port from where we walked up about half an hour, huffing and puffing. We reached the top to find a view words cannot describe. The Aegean Sea spread itself out on all sides and Santorini island was marked by tiny doll-like, white houses. Making our way down was tougher than going up with the path laden with rocks, but it was worth the view and the pictures. I came to realize that it’s physically impossible to make a bad picture in Greece. After the volcano, we ate at Amoudi Bay Fish Tavern Oia. It offers delicious seafood and an even better view. It was an absolute visual treat. We then headed to the Akrotiri Lighthouse, the southernmost part of Santorini. A panoramic view of the sea meeting the sky with the sun setting in the distance was a sight like no other. There were a handful of tourists like us there as well who’d made their way down to watch the sunset—making it a public, yet intimate setting. There was almost pin drop silence the entire time; no one wanted to disturb the peace and tranquility.
The sky changed its colours from a bright burning orange to a lovely pink, streaked with purple hues. In the distance, a sole ship buoyed, making it a picturesque frame. When the sun dropped into the sea, everyone who was there clapped like it was a miracle. After witnessing the magical sunset, we decided to hit the pool in our hotel. It was our last night in Santorini. I wasn’t ready to bid goodbye to the island yet, but the next day we were en route to Athens. This time our only aim was to shop (you can imagine how elated I was!) Ermou Street, the shopping hub for everything high street is where we found ourselves first. For a much-needed break, we enjoyed coffee and pastries at a cafe in Kolonaki, the luxury shopping district of Athens.
We got back from our Greek getaway with a lot of memories, laughter and not to mention, weight, despite all the walking and swimming. The easy-going nature of the Greek people, laid back attitude on the islands and their magnanimous hospitality left us spellbound, wishing we had stayed much longer. Mykonos was our favourite destination, full of life, sun and sand. What more could one ask for from a Big Fat Greek Holiday? I will definitely be going back, this time around without my parents to truly experience Mykonos. It’s the best of both worlds—scenic beaches and party clusters. Live young, live free!This travelogue was initially published in our November/December 2014 issue and is a part of our extensive archive.
Text and Photography Samiksha Sharma
View from the room at Harmony Boutique Hotel, Mykonos.